Appropriations Groundhog Day - Déjà vu All Over Again

Appropriations Groundhog Day - Déjà vu All Over Again

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The days are ticking by, but Congress is not moving closer to passing appropriations for Fiscal Year 2018, which began on Oct. 1.

Each day that passes is an opportunity lost to improve our Army’s readiness.

As of late October, both the House and Senate had finally passed a budget resolution.

Budget resolutions are supposed to be completed by April 15 as the first step in the Congressional budget system, a system that is widely acknowledged to be completely broken. The budget resolution isn’t a binding law, but it sets the allocations (or funding levels) for each committee to then mark its appropriations bill.

In this case, all the House appropriations committees went ahead and marked their bills without a budget resolution, and their bills have since passed the House in an omnibus bill passed on party lines.

However, the House omnibus was dead on arrival in the Senate, which has only marked nine of their 12 appropriations bills in committee, and haven’t passed any on the Senate floor.

The current continuing resolution will expire on Dec. 8. If appropriations aren’t passed and signed into law by then, another continuing resolution will be required, or else the government will partially shut down.

Complicating everything is the fact that the president’s budget request and all the appropriations bills currently exceed the caps in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

This means that even if the House and Senate can pass the bills on time, sequester will kick in and mindlessly shave off tens of billions of dollars of appropriations unless separate legislation is passed to raise the budget caps for 2018.

In general, Republicans only want to raise the defense caps, and Democrats will only agree to raise the defense caps if the non-defense discretionary caps are equally increased.

In two previous episodes, a Bipartisan Budget Act was passed in 2013 and again in 2015 to raise the caps for two years. However, with health care, tax reform and disaster recovery taking the attention of the Congress, there has been little movement toward a third cap-raising bill so far.

We should also remember that Dec. 8 is the date when the suspension of the debt limit expires, once again jeopardizing the full faith and credit of the United States.

It is unclear at this point how long the Treasury Department will be able to delay default through what are called “extraordinary measures,” but the debt limit is just one more complicating factor in a witch’s brew of Congressional gridlock and inaction.

If we get through December without defaulting or shutting the government down, we can look forward to an even less productive 2018 as Congress moves toward the mid-term elections.

Here’s to hoping that my next column will reveal the shocking and extraordinary Congressional progress made in November, where all of these complications were worked out with exemplary bipartisan statesmanship.

That would be a column I would love to write.

See you on the high ground.